An artist finishing a painting is how veteran photographer Chris Moore describes the moments when a fashion designer presents a collection at a catwalk show. “Especially McQueen,” he says. “They were wonderful to be at, and made your hair stand up on the back on your neck at times, so amazing, with the music and the lighting, the way they present it. It’s like seeing a wonderful ballet.”
In Paris, in March 2010, Moore photographed the poignant final collection of Alexander McQueen, who had died a month earlier. Referencing Byzantine art, angels and eternity, the show was a memorial to the designer’s vision, genius and spirit. “I was his house photographer and it was decided that, for the last show, after he had died, they would have only one photographer, and it was going to be me,” he says. “It was very emotional. A lot of the journalists were in tears watching.”
Now 84, Moore’s pioneering work itself is showcased in a new exhibition at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, not far from his second home in the Allen Valley, Northumberland.
Running until January next year, Catwalking: Fashion Through the Lens of Chris Moore brings together more than 200 original photographs, taken over six decades in London, Paris, Milan and New York, capturing legendary fashion moments from designers including McQueen, Chalayan, Courreges, Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, John Galliano, Comme des Garçons, Christopher Kane, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. Some fashion houses have lent the Bowes Museum the corresponding original catwalk outfits to display alongside Moore’s images. The exhibition expands on Catwalking: Photographs by Chris Moore, published last year by Laurence King, with words by Alexander Fury, now co-curator.
Credited by Fury with bringing a refined editorial reportage feel to runway photography, Moore has worked extensively for the fashion press and daily newspapers, including The Yorkshire Post, working with then women’s editor Jill Armstrong in Paris.
He was born in Newcastle, his father a butcher and his mother a cook. The family moved for work to London, near Ilford, when young Chris was three, joining extended family members. “Newcastle came with us,” he says. “My sister had a Leica and she introduced me to photography when I was about 12. It seemed like magic to me.”
After school, his father found him a job with a platemakers off Fleet Street, where he was ushered into a photographic studio. It was an environment he loved and, at 18, he moved to Vogue Studios, Shaftesbury Avenue, as an assistant, working with legends Cecil Beaton and Henry Clarke. “It was wonderful, a great education,” he says.
He left Vogue because he needed a higher salary when got married at 21 to his first wife, Jackie – “rather too young,” he says – and went to the Camera Press agency. When he left there, in around 1960, founder Tom Blau loaned him £100 to set up as a freelance, and Jackie, a fashion journalist, encouraged him to accompany her to Paris fashion shows.
The first fashion presentations, always couture, took place before select gatherings in salons. “They were always very paranoid that we would sell the pictures to people who would copy them,” Moore says. “After the show, we would go to the houses and they would have four or five garments that they would let you photograph on the house model, and you had to pay her a fee, which seems very strange – the equivalent of £4 a garment.”
In the late 1960s, the ready-to-wear brands started staging catwalk shows. “They let us in straightaway,” he says. The couture houses soon followed suit and the runway as we know it today was born. “It all got rather hysterical with all the newspapers coming,” Moore says. “Prior to that, newspapers didn’t come to cover the shows, but when Montana and Dior and Chanel let everyone in all the daily papers from England and Germany and Italy sent photographers.”
In those days, he would shoot in both colour and black and white from the side of the runway. “I used to have a box I sat on. When the models came down the runway, I would leap to my feet to take the picture and then sit down again. The journalists sitting in the front row got absolutely sick to death of us leaping up and down, so they complained and eventually we were ushered back, and that’s when we had to change our way of shooting. I can tell you, it was rather difficult to have longer lenses which were not autofocus.”
What makes a great model has not, he says, really changed over the years. “Obviously, it’s looks. People think that models are dumb, but they’re not. Top models are very intelligent,” he says, adding that Christy Turlington was a favourite of his. “I always felt she was absolutely super. It didn’t matter what she put on, she made it look really top notch. She would show it very well. She would walk to the end of the catwalk, turn round and go back four or five steps and turn again, so you had more time to shoot her – terrible word to use.”
Moore believes the catwalk will continue, although notes there are fewer photographers than there were. “Watching a video is not the same at all. Bloggers, they all use mobile phones. The whole world is a photographer now,” he says.
He is contemplating retirement, although he admits his wife, Maxine Millar, with whom he founded his company, Catwalking.com, has heard it all before. “I’m 84. I really should make way for the young,” he adds.
When he hangs up his Nikon D4S, he will be much missed. After he was hospitalised in an accident in February while working in Paris, rival colleagues from around the world rallied round. “The pack looked after me,” he says. “They supplied me with photographs that I would have been doing myself. We’ve all had problems and we’ve all helped each other.”
He admits he wishes, sometimes, that his career had not been so focused on the catwalk. “I was basically pigeon-holed early on,” he says. “I do nature now on the Instagram. I would love to be a really good landscape photographer, but I have to tell you, I find it really difficult.”
Catwalking: Fashion Through the Lens of Chris Moore runs at the Bowes Museum, Teesdale, to January 6, 2019. www.bowesmuseum.org.uk